Raising money isn't the most important part of the annual Relay for Life at the Oneida High School, said co-chairwoman Patti McGee.
Now in its fifth year and part of an American Cancer Society campaign with similar events happening over the last few weeks across the country, this past weekend's Relay -- plus the year-long fund-raising efforts of the teams taking part -- brought in more than $117,956 for the fight against the disease, McGee said.
But that is not as important as getting the word out to the public about cancer, and sharing the stories and inspiration of its survivors, she explained.
We're here to get awareness out," McGee said. "That's what this is all about. Every single day, more people are diagnosed with cancer."
Kicking off with a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Oneida vocalist extraordinaire Sukosh Fearon, the 18-hour Relay called for at least one member of each of the 56 teams to walk laps around the school's track throughout the event. Special themed laps kept the festivities colorful during the evening and into the morning, featuring such variety as hippy-dressed walkers, Rocky boxer look-alikes, Halloween costumes and even a poker run.
The survivors lap started the walks, with more than 200 purple Survivor shirt-wearing participants proving their strength in the face of the disease and giving inspiration to everyone present with a lap on their own.
The people in the purple shirts are the reason we do what we do, McGee said.
Some 3,000 white bags adorned with names of loved ones lined the track, with some memorializing cancer patients who have passed on and others honoring the survivors of the disease. At dark, candles inside those bags were lighted for perhaps the most solemn part of the evening -- a silent memorial lap led by Oneida bagpiper Tim Crofton playing Amazing Grace.